Nadal edges Auger-Aliassime thriller to book Djokovic date

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Rafa Nadal overcame a sluggish start and a stiff challenge from Canadian ninth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime with an enthralling 3-6 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3 win on Sunday to set up a mouth-watering quarter-final with world number one Novak Djokovic.

This was only the third time in his 112 matches that Nadal was taken to the fifth set at Roland Garros and he ensured he kept his blemish-free record intact, wrapping up the win in four hours and 21 minutes to wild applause from the crowd.

Nadal will hope he can recover in time from the gruelling contest for his next outing, where the reigning champion awaits for their 59th career showdown.

The Spaniard, who will turn 36 on Friday, has lifted the Musketeers’ Cup a record 13 times, but was ousted in the semi-finals last year by Djokovic.

Djokovic completed his victory against Diego Schwartzman on Court Suzanne Lenglen shortly before his long-time rival started his match, and the Serb is yet to lose a set in his four rounds.

“We know each other well,” Nadal said of Djokovic. “We have a lot of history together. He came here after winning in Rome. For me, it was not an ideal situation to arrive here. But here we are. We are at Roland Garros; it is my favourite place without a doubt.

“The only thing I can tell you, I am going to be focused and try my best. The only thing I can guarantee is that I am going to fight until the end,” added the Spaniard who converted only six of his 22 breakpoint chances in the match.

The clash on Court Philippe Chatrier was the second meeting between Nadal and Auger-Aliassime, but the first since Toni Nadal began working with the Canadian in 2021.

‘Uncle Toni’ was part of Nadal’s team for the majority of his record 21 Grand Slam singles titles, and the buildup to the contest was dominated by talk of the 61-year-old coaching Auger-Aliassime against his nephew.

Toni Nadal did not sit in the Canadian’s box and chose a neutral seat and he would have been pleased with Auger-Aliassime’s performance during the opening set.

The 21-year-old showed immense grit and incredible athleticism to win the opening set, earning applause from Nadal on one point when he jumped to make a backhand overhead volley.

Nadal wasted six breakpoint opportunities in the first set but cut down on his errors in the second and made his chance count in the eighth game to break his opponent and level the contest at 1-1.

Nadal got the early break of serve in the third when Auger-Aliassime missed a couple of overhead volleys and another break in the seventh sealed the set and a 2-1 lead for the left-hander.

But the Canadian refused to go away. After an early trade of service breaks, Auger-Aliassime broke Nadal’s delivery a second time to take the contest to a deciding fifth set.

The last time Nadal played a five-setter at Roland Garros was in the 2013 semi-final, when he beat Djokovic.

The Spaniard still had enough left in his tank to clinch the deciding break against Auger-Aliassime in the eighth game and then held his serve, sealing the contest on his first matchpoint with a winner.

“It was a very important victory for me without doubt,” Nadal said.

(Reuters)